Category Archives: Insights Round Up
We got in to one of my favourite discussions at one of my DIY User Research workshop at FFWD London. I demonstrated how to run a number of different types of research and had the group practice for themselves. One great question was around how diligent to be on fixing user experience glitches.
Years of research with the youth market has shown that they do not necessarily like to use products that are too “scripted” – at the extreme, experiences that have in-built tutorials. They tell me that half the fun of starting to use a new app or product is to work out how to use it. That is part of the “game” (their language). They enjoy learning how to use a product and are happy to find their own way around. So fixing every single little glitch might not be a good thing to do – crazy though it may sound.
Now having said all of that, I need to temper it
1) “Hygiene” processes need to be as simple and pain-free as possible. Examples of “hygiene” being registration, sign in, and most importantly, payment! Serious impact for your business if there are any issues here.
2) It does somewhat depend on the product and the segment. If you are a mobile banking app, people are using you for efficiency and convenience – and a glitchy experience is going to put people off and reduce their confidence – the last thing a bank needs. This is also a good example of where you need to think about the segment. My first point above is a younger user, but it would seem that older users, experiencing a banking app would not really find working it out “fun”. Annoying, more like.
3) The product could be SO worth it! My example here is Pinterest. I love Pinterest. It is really useful for me to discover and organise home decor images for my pending house move (fingers crossed!) and I love the convenience of being able to share my boards. There are lots of incidents where I feel that the product is not intuitive and where I am forced through tutorials for new features. But I love it – so useful – and honestly, my love is not diminished by these usability downers.
I love running these workshops – the conversations that flow, the light bulbs that go off and the questions that make me think. Please comment away on this post.
Here’s the report from this year’s Product Doctor Drop in Surgery at OTA 2012.
Another interesting range of products; from making a good old phone call, through to tracking housekeeping budget, m-health to enhanced status posting and finishing with around the world travel.
From what I saw in the surgeries, a few trends were certainly coming through:
- incorporation of scanning technology
- the continued growth of products to support social networking status posting
- m-health becoming a reality
- increased adoption of value added mobile services by the corporate market
- revenue models from businesses rather than individual spend
Diagnosis hinged around some familiar threads –
1). End User Validation– making sure that user insights are gathered at concept phase and continued user testing continues. The point, as always, is that this is not just usability testing, but testing that the overall concept you have. Identifying user need and desire, supporting revenue models and product feature set all need to be validated before you go and build your product.
2). Ensure it is a Genuine End User – friends, family, established business contacts and friendly existing customers do not count – they don’t want to upset you. Remember also, that you are not representative of an entire segment – building something on your own needs is not validation.
Please see “DIY User Engagement” for more guidance.
3). Revenue Modelling – Really think hard about where the pots of money are; this year there was more talk about collecting and providing customer information to brands and generating sales leads for brands. In this climate and market, a product really has to be amazing for an end user to want to pay for it.
4). Know your competition – make sure you understand who is vying for your customer money or attention. Think hard about what you think you are selling and question whether it is already being provided today.
5). Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Technology brings many new opportunities and there are some very clever developers out there, but please check out the commercial bases before you give up your job and start building a new product.
There are a couple of other points that struck me this year. I thought about how useful it could be for my patients to hear each others session. Some have experience in areas that others have not and that “share” could have been helpful. Tying this together with some feedback last year that this felt more like “product therapy”, I am wondering about running group surgeries next year…
Last week I mentored 13 start ups in 2 days at Start Up Weekend Education London (#swel) and at Ignite100, where Katrina and I ran a Product Doctor Drop In Surgery for the teams in Newcastle. One of the consistent themes was that teams were not thinking about their Launch Strategy early enough. If you read the below, you will see how important it is to do so and how it needs to be considered during the Product Development phase rather than aftewards.
Diagnosis: Your product feels like all things to all people
This can be a dangerous position as it is difficult to focus in a way that enables you to understand who your end users are. This distance between the product and its end users is likely to result in feature overload, lack of clarity in the product description, product positioning and launch plan which will ultimately limit your success.
Feature overload increases your time to market. The more features, the longer the product development time, the longer the testing time is and the longer the fix period. It also adds time to future development time as regression testing takes longer.
Lack of clarity in the product description, product positioning and launch plan may not “speak” to end users in their language as you don’t know what language they speak. If they don’t feel targeted it will be more difficult to get them interested in your product.
Then the million dollar question: “How are you going to drive traffic to your site?” If you don’t know who you are targeting, how can you possibly work out how to drive traffic? Of course everyone talks about the industry press and blogs – but will this reach your target group?
Be really good in one area first. Consider organising your product roadmap around product launches to different sectors / areas, each backed up with a tailored feature set.
Work closely with your end user target segment to not only establish the feature set but also develop ideas for product positioning and launch tactics.
For your initial launch, select an industry sector / area that you have some connection to already. Either you have worked within it, or you already have contacts who you can get close to, giving you access to end users to engage in the ways described above throughout the development process.
You can show your product feature list to users (worded in user-friendly language of course) and have them put the features in order of desirability. Ask them not to rate any features that they are not interested in. You should see some consensus forming quickly as long as you have defined your target segment well. You can also get them to indicate where the features are a hygiene factor (they just must be there) vs something that feels it is different to the competition. Note that it is not who you think your competition is, but who your users think your competition is.
Cross tab this feature list against a scale of how easy / difficult the product is to deliver (Scrum processes involving points to show this is advised). Cross tab this further with some benchmarking and make sure that the sector / area you choose does not already have a popular solution. Ensure that you work with end users to establish where any competitors are strong and weak. Establish your product feature set and positioning around these insights.
For more tips on “DIY User Engagement”, see my previous blogpost.
This year at Over the Air 2010 (OTA) I set up a Drop In Product Surgery for mobile developers, which focused on how to make their products more commercially successful. OTA is a two day grass-roots mobile developers event which is in its third year and offers an interesting schedule of keynote speakers (Sir Tim Berners-Lee headlined this year), sessions, panels, workshops and competitions for the all-night hack-a-thon. This is a really unique event with a great atmosphere; it also presents an opportunity to try out new ideas and work on them alongside some amazingly clever people.
Here are some of the most common prescriptions that I wrote at the surgeries.
1. Talk to your end users, early and often
- It is NEVER too early to talk to end users – you don’t need to wait for a prototype – start with the concept
- You can check that your assumptions about their current behaviour are correct
- You can try to discover pressure points that need solutions
- If you have a great piece of functionality, get end users together to help you “productise” it – if the user session is properly facilitated you can get them to build the range of potential propositions for you
- Even if you have already imagined or built a product, you still shouldn’t be afraid to do the above; let users to strip it back to its functionality and see what propositions they come up with
- Users can also help you prioritise your feature list – this helps get the user angle in to your roadmap
- There is nothing stopping you engaging with your end users now – just go and mingle – if you think people will use your product at the bus stop, then go and talk to people at bus stops!
In every user group that I have run over the years, I have always been surprised by the reactions and suggestions that come up. It is crucial that users are involved in the process from concept through to launch and beyond, to ensure continuous improvement of the product. Think of how many innovations fail – and the cost that gets sunk in to development. Try to understand your end users as well as you can; get them to help you to define the key benefits and how are you going to communicate your message. This theme re-occurs again and again throughout this post!
2. Size your market & know your competition
- Size your market opportunity – this will help to inform your initial commercial viability and validate assumptions on your revenue forecasts
- Think about the different end user segments for your product – who is going to use your product? (again, this is where end user input can be crucial)
- Do your competitor analysis; write up your SWOT analysis and that of your competitors. It will help you to focus on what you are – and are not – and to find your competitive advantage.
- Ask yourself what you have that is special. Unique can be perceived in many different ways – it may be that your user experience is unique although the functionality is not. Perhaps you have a special route to market that will help you to reach your end users
- If you can’t believe why your idea has not been done before, research it fully – you may learn why it has never been brought to market
3. Define your product
- Avoid feature over-load. Can you define your features and corresponding benefits in 3 bullet points? Find the real jewels in your offering and focus on them. You can save yourself time and money
- Be aware of taking on the giants. For example, if your product is offering photo uploads as part of the offering, from a user perspective you may actually be competing with Flickr!
- Getting people to change their behaviour is very difficult. Think through what you are asking people to do and whether there is already an established way of doing it
- Think carefully about creating a new community – how can you plug in to online communities that already exist? Building and managing a community is a significant piece of work with ongoing overheads. If your product is dependant on that community remember that it can take years to build up
- People now want to have conversations. There are growing numbers of people that want to engage with products, be that just by reading or making comments or sharing their opinions with their friends on social networks. Where this is appropriate for your product, do consider building in these features. This is a core part of the product design and it will delegate some of the marketing effort to your users
- Think about what technology you already have built – before you shelve it, talk to users and think about the scenarios where it could be “productised”
5. Consider your routes to market
- Are you going direct? Are you going to have the resources to build and execute a marketing plan yourselves – and set up the customer support function?
- How will you drive people to find your App in the App store? Research ways of “DIY PR” (Lisa Devaney & Lauren McGregor) to get the best value!
- Do you have some functionality that could be really useful to an existing brand? Again, this is another great example where end users can help you to identify how their existing brand experiences could be improved by what you have to offer
- User insights can really help to strengthen a pitch. “We have run insights workshops with these different segments, and here are prototypes that have come out of that”
- Which brands are in a highly competitive market and have some money to spend? Many brands want to be “in mobile” but they don’t quite know how to weave this channel in to their offering
It was an absolute pleasure to have the opportunity to work with some really talented developers. I hope that I helped them think through some of the more commercial and user-focused elements.
I was also proto-typing the “Product Doctor is in” event format. The name “Product Doctor” and the offer of “Product Surgeries” worked well as a short-hand descriptor and there was a clear understanding of what the appointments were for. At 25 minutes long, the appointments were convenient and accessible for event attendees. Although the OTA event environment is informal, these sessions felt quite formal – as it is with any doctor. This level of formality meant that the conversations were very focused and in 25 minutes, we could diagnose and identify some treatment. The feedback from my patients was that I had them looking through a totally different lens. I hope they will take their medicine!
Finally, thanks to Katrina Damianou for helping to develop the concept; Flora Gordon for spreading the word; my patients for being great guinea pigs and above all, the OTA Team – Helen Keegan and Daniel Appelquist in particular for letting me experiment!
Back in August 2009, I spotted a posting on the online Space Makers Network from a Lambeth Council officer who was interested in doing something creative with empty shops. I grabbed Dougald Hine, the founder of Space Makers, and went down to meet him. That was how we came to be introduced and was introduced to the property owners of Brixton Village indoor market (formerly Granville Arcade) who had 20 empty units that they were struggling to rent.
The first time we visited the market I broke out in goosebumps as my body tingled with possibilities and that was how I became the Project Director, working with Space Makers to bring this wonderful space back to life along with an equally wonderful and inspiring team – Katrina Damianou and Flora Gordon.
What an incredible atmosphere created by the beauty of the 1930s build and the echoes of its glory days, with the sharp contrast between the empty parts of the market vs the busy parts that bustled with shops selling meat, fish, toiletries, wigs, specialist grocers and restaurants. From the start, it was important to us to make sure that the existing tenants would also benefit from the additional footfall that the new projects would bring.
First, a competition for 3 months rent free was launched at a Space Exploration Night in November ’09 – 5 applications for every available space were received and by mid December the first tranche of creative, community and enterprising projects were up and running. There have been a series of temporary and test trade projects in the units ever since and 9 months later all of 20 the empty units have been permanently rented – success!
This project was always about the longer term sustainability of the market and bringing it back to its former glory as a key destination for the communit. The vision was to make it not just a home for trade, but also a place to see performance – dance, music, theatre and a place to interact – meet old friends and make new ones – whilst taking part in all kinds of activities. Thus the program of event-based Saturdays began in January. With huge buy-in from the community, both as visitors and contributors, and the need to drive more footfall for the new projects, late Thursdays were launched in April.
What all of these youth projects had in common was:
- The energy and enthusiasm of the young people involved. Another re-buff to the media image of students as moody, ungrateful and reckless! On this project I have met some incredibly bright, upbeat young people that have been appreciative of the opportunities that this has offered them and they have been the most responsible tenants!
- They were prepared to take risks and step in the unknown – an opportunity that is not offered to them in the formal educational structure. With my background steeped in innovation, we have been clear that this project does not know failure – only learning opportunities. I have found that with this approach and a lack of formal structure, people have been able to unleash their true creativity in a safe environment.
- They use social media like they were brought up with it (well they almost were) and are incredibly good at activating their networks to drive visitors to their projects, which also benefits the overall market project. They also use more traditional media, creating posters and some going out and about flyering the local area and their colleges. Many also attracted press to their projects.
- They also showed a strong social mindedness, wanting to be part of this larger project to re-establish the market, often forming strong relationships with other traders and taking part in overall market activities.
This is a showcase of what happens when Digital Youth are given a real life opportunity.
1. Write by Numbers – Ovid Reworked
A young collective of writers, actors and designers brought the first theatre project to the market in an open fronted unit. They challenge young writers, performers and theatre makers to experiment with all the ways it is possible to make, create and produce theatre. This was their first production as a group; they attracted over 300 people in 2 weeks and and media attention including an article in The Sunday Times. They achieved this not only through sheer hard work, but effective use of social media, online project documentation, the ability to engage their networks and to bring in locals by promoting out and about with flyers. Spring-boarding from this success, they continue to put on productions and are now recruiting for project managers!
2. Ash Finch – a 2nd Year photography student from London South Bank University
Ash carried out his work placement in the early months of the project and his photographs were published by Time Out and the Sunday Times.
Over 2 weeks, approximately 25 young people from Lambeth participated in a 4 day course delivered by Young Enterprise London to learn the basics of setting up and running a business. They learned about everything from marketing and branding to product development and budgeting. Each group designed and made key rings and the course culminated with an opportunity to sell their products to members of the public at Brixton Village Market.
“…We had a very successful time, with both teams selling all their stock within an hour and a half of arrival. The young people learned a lot about customer services and sales techniques and definitely seemed to enjoy the experience…” Rosalind Moody from Young Enterprise London.
4. Work Experience, London Creative Labs
Rashida and her brother Hassan, were introduced to the project by Sofia Bustamente of London Creative Labs. Sofia works in Brixton with the objective of job creation – by the community and for the community. She finds dis-enfranchised people and helps them work on their bigger dreams working through practical steps to get them there. So she set up work placements with Sweet Tooth, the sweet shop, and Cornercopia, a locally sourced restaurant/deli. This enabled both the siblings to build on their CV and find jobs using what they learned about customer service and retail.
5. Wake Up Campaign – Viviane Williams, a student from Goldsmiths.
“…Being given the opportunity to have a pop up in Brixton Village Market has allowed me to test my ideas/vision to the public, this has been rewarding, insightful and has given me more confidence to take risks, a true entrepreneurial attribute to test for a viable venture. By testing my vision, I have interacted with the local community and have formed great relationships. Through this, I have developed my social enterprise ‘Wakeup campaign‘ – stimulating people’s consciousness with the power of design such as role play – in this case as African Kings and Queens – to help bring social change. I have now won a few awards on behalf of the business and I feel this would have not been achievable without the platform of showcasing the idea in Brixton Village Market’…” Viviane Williams.
6. Camberwell Arts College Students
Artinavan were the first group in – they had been one of the successful applicants for the initial 3 months rent free. Artinavan ran a series of incredible exhibitions that changed every few weeks. Positioned at a busy junction in the market surrounded by grocers, fishmongers and meat stalls, they played a key role in connecting the new projects with the existing traders in the market through their creative work.
One of my favourite stories is the photo booth that they set up where they printed out about 2 foot high worth of photos of the traders and market visitors that they had taken during that particular activity and within 3 weeks, there were only a handful of photos left. It gave me a clear indication that all of those people had returned to the market and collected their photo. This is the story that I tell to show that a large number of people that visit the market enjoy the experience so much that they come back. They further showed how photographs can play a significant role in breaking down barriers and starting conversations.
I do encourage you to look at their blog that shows film, photographs and explanations of the projects. They also received coverage in The Independent. They were something really special. Here is what Sean Andre Millington has said about his time: “‘…On our many variations on using the space that was offered to us in Brixton village market allowed the the collective to really explore the possibilities of producing art without the permissible pressures that are ever imposed within the art world, we were able to produce and present art that directly engaged with the vibrancy of the area and the freedom to create beyond the white walls of a gallery. We were able to view the nature of our interactive installations engage with the whole market, where the whole of the market became the gallery and our shop a painting hanging on its wall…”
Comic Assault – Charlie Cameron
Following Artinavan’s success, we have had a series of Camberwell Student projects including Comic Assault, where a group of arts students produced and sold their Comic. It was part of their course syllabus to set up an event outside of the college. “…Setting up the show to having the opening night it has given us a huge confidence boost to go out and do more of the same…”
Alter Ego, Philippe Fenner
An exhibition created by the 2nd year Camberwell Illustration group – www.alteregodraw.com. This exhibition exclusively comprised work by the public and not just art students. It is a ‘live exhibition’ as the entrance fee was visitors drawing their alter ego.
“…Our show at the Brixton Village had a perfect setting. We found that there is a dormant inner creative force behind everyone’s exteriors and that the passion for drawing does not die at the age of ten, it is merely subdued until a project like our own released it, if only for five minutes. We experienced a show that we’d always wanted to see; un-snobbish, approachable, fun and full of unlikely heroes; from enforcers of southbank patrol creating existential mind-maps to East-End club owners with pink hats drawing themselves how they’d like to be seen. We experienced also a show that would not have been possible if the group hadn’t created a cohesive idea which all of us had an input in…”
Local charity, The Baytree Centre, got the forecourt dancing one Thursday afternoon with their 8 – 13 year old dance troop. They presented some routines and workouts to passersby and encouraged everyone to join in. The Baytree Centre is 5 minute walk from the market. This was the upshot of my just turning up for an uninvited chat!
“…The girls love to perform and being able to involve onlookers and teach them what they’ve been learning made it extra special. The girls got to share what they learnt and demonstrate their talent in an informal and friendly environment…” Suzy Holloway
In this post I have attempted to show how young people will pro-actively take up opportunities that we can offer them to gain real life learning experiences and how they use them to build up their own portfolio. It gives more fodder to challenge the negative media perception of teens and students. You can see how they use social media effectively to mobilise and extend their networks. I hope that it encourages you to create platforms for young people to engage with your projects and how doing so can also benefit your project and business objectives.